1. Design & Illustration
  2. Drawing/Illustration
  3. Digital Painting

Create a Cute and Dark Fantasy Illustration in Photoshop

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Read Time: 10 min

While thinking up a strong concept is often one of the biggest challenges that a designer will face during the creative process, executing that concept can be equally, if not more challenging. In this tutorial we will explain how to create a cute, but dark, fantasy illustration in Photoshop using digital painting techniques. Let's get started!

Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial.

Step 1

Create a New File by going to File > New (Command/Ctrl + N). Select International Paper and in Size, A4.

Step 2

With the Paint Bucket (G) fill the Background layer with 70% grey. Create a new layer (Shift + Command/Ctrl + N) and begin to sketch.

Step 3

Choose a lighter and darker shade of grey than the background in the Color Palette, set the sketch Layer to 30% Opacity and add a new layer below.
Now paint roughly the lighter and darker areas establishing the direction of the light from left to right.
In this case I used a normal round soft Brush with Shape dynamics > Pen Pressure and Transfer activated.
I have set the Wacom's Stylus button with the letter X to switch from Background Color to Front Color faster.

Step 4

Set the sketch layer Opacity to 7% and in a new layer, start to define the image shapes and volume.

As a side note, all across the work, you will need to change the Brush setting several times, using Pen Pressure for details and without it to fill larger areas.
Personally, I prefer to use Transfer mode with Pen Pressure mode when working roughly, but this is optional, as you will discover what you feel more comfortable with as you work. I change Brush Opacity a great number of times, normally in a range of 20% to 50% to blend tones.

Step 5

In a new layer, without the Transfer Mode, keep detailing the shapes and volumes.
To blend two shades of grey, pick the middle tone with the Color Picker (I) and paint with a soft brush without Pen Pressure and with very low opacity (from 2% to 10%).

At this point I prefer to use a new layer each time I add something new. I would rather do this than painting everything in one layer, because it is easier to go back in case of dramatic changes, which are really common for me as I love to improvise.

Step 6

In a new layer in Multiply Mode, with dark grey, add shadows to the branches to give it volume.

Step 7

In a new layer in Multiply Mode, 35% Opacity, without Pen Pressure, add general shadows to cover large areas, using the Rubber to eliminate what is not needed.

Step 8

Do the same as step seven, now at the illuminated areas, with white in Screen mode layer set to 37% Opacity.

Step 9

Now it is time to detail a bit more and apply more blending. If you start to feel tired, select all the layers but the Background and clouds layer and duplicate them by dragging them with Alt pressed and merge them (Command/Ctrl + E) and with the Blur tool soften the gradients wherever is necessary, especially with the girl.

Step 10

It's time to make the hair of the creature behind the girl (I called him Bob). With normal hard brush with Pen Pressure set from 1 to 5 pixel's size and using white and light shades of grey, start drawing hairs following the volume of Bob.

Step 11

Create a new Group and call it "Eye". Make a black Ellipse Shape (U), double-click on the layer, choose Drop Shadow and set: Normal mode, black 100% Opacity, Angle 120¼, 6px Distance, 20% Extension, 35px Size.

Now pick Inner Shadow and set: Normal mode, white 39% Opacity, deselect Use Global Light and use Angle -34¼, 2px Distance, 0% Choke, 4px Size.

In a new layer make two highlights and to erase them as you see in the image with a soft brush.

Add a very soft light in a low Opacity layer.

Draw the pupil with black and add a thin white line below. Duplicate the Group "Eye" by dragging the Group while pressing Alt, now press Command/Ctrl + T and place the eye in the other side and rotate to fit.

Step 12

With the Pen Tool (P) follow both Bob's legs, once you have done the first one, press + and then do the other one (+ will add the second shape at the same layer). Now press Command/Ctrl + click on the shape layer to make a selection.

Add a new layer in Screen mode, and paint with black the strips on both legs.

Step 13

Add a new layer and with a normal hard brush and dark grey, draw the branches of the plants, erasing where is needed to make them fit at the tree shape.

With the Color Burn Tool (O) set: Range: Middle Tones, 59% Exposition, darken the shaded areas.

Add a new layer, set the Opacity to 42%, press Alt-click in the middle of the new layer and the one with the branches, this way everything you do in the new layer will be only visible inside what we have already painted in the below layer.
Now, with a soft brush using white, paint the lights.

Add a layer below the branches and with black, paint the shadows, erase to soften the shadow wherever is necessary.

Step 14

Add a layer at the top of the plants and start drawing this heart-shaped leaves.

Add a new layer on top of the leaves and Alt-Click in the middle, using white, paint the lights.

Do the same as the step before, but using black to paint shadows.

Merge both light and shadows layers by selecting them and then press Command/Ctrl + E. Pick the Smudge Tool and draw the filaments of the leaves.

In a new layer inside the leaves, with 36% opacity, darken the shaded areas and lighten the illuminated areas.

Step 15

Now with a soft brush with Pen Pressure and 43% Opacity, paint the clouds with round and loose strokes. Move this layer below the tree.

Step 16

Create a Screen Mode layer and select the Gradient Tool (G), choose Circular in the Gradient Options and add small circles of white at the lower left corner of the canvas and dark gradients next to the tree and between the clouds.

Step 17

Add a new layer on top of the clouds, set to 30% Opacity, and continue painting the clouds, adding darker tones to create the volume. Use the Smudge Tool to re-draw the shapes wherever is necessary.

Step 18

Select the tree, leaves and plants with Command/Ctrl + Shift-Click on the layers, this way we will have all the shapes in just one selection.
Add a new layer between the sky and the tree and fill it with white using the Paint Bucket (G).

Step 19

Use Command/Ctrl + D to deselect and Double-Click on the layer, choose Outer Glow and set: 43% Opacity, Solid white, 40px Size.

Step 20

Now it is time to add some textures, it is interesting that you experiment a little, trying different kind of textures, blending modes and opacity.
Insert the first texture, set the layer to multiply, press Command/Ctrl + L (Levels) and set the black to 93 and the white to 172. The idea here is to leave just the noise. Now set the Layer Opacity to 8%.

Add the second texture, and do the same process; set the Opacity to 17%. Do the same with the third texture, but this time press Command/Ctrl + U and set Saturation to -100. Then Command/Ctrl + T, Right-Click > Flip Horizontal to put the dark part of the texture in the lower right corner.

Step 21

Add a new layer, pick a nice sepia or a nice brown, use the Paint Bucket (G) to fill the layer. Set to 32% Opacity, and choose Color Mode.

Step 22

In another layer paint the sky with blue. Set to Screen Mode, 22% Opacity.

Step 23

To add color to the girl and to Bob, use as much layers in Color Mode as you need, in this case one for each part (face, dress, hair) and set the Opacity from 20% to 40%, according to how much saturation you are looking for.
For the girl's hair I have painted with a nice magenta and a darker, desaturated violet for the shaded areas of the hair and dress.
To color Bob I have decided to use different tones of yellow and some blue in the eyes as a reflection of the sky.

In a Multiply Mode layer set to 44% Opacity add some red to the cheeks, nose, chin and hands of the girl, and in a new layer set to 36% Opacity and Multiply Mode, add some dark violet or blue to the shadows of the hair, around the eyes, the dress and some red to Bob's cheeks.

Step 24

In a Color Mode layer set to 78% Opacity, paint the tree using oranges for the lights and browns for the shadows.
Make a selection of the plants, and paint them with yellowish green in a Color Mode layer set to 43% Opacity.

Step 25

At this step I have thought that the sky don't look good in blue, so I have duplicated de sky layer and I have painted it with different shades of desaturated yellows, this way it will not look separated from the rest of the drawing.

Step 26

Go to Layer Adjustment and select Photo Filter, choose sepia at 80%.

Step 27

Duplicate all layers and merge them. Use the Blur Tool and the Smudge Tool to fix small defects especially in the girl and remove texture areas that do not look good.

Step 28

In a new Screen Mode Layer with a small hard brush with Pen Pressure, paint highlights, especially at the girl's face and at the plants branches.

Step 29

Now, as the left side looks empty, it seemed good to add some red. Create a new Group and call it "Butterfly" and sketch three butterflies.

With the Pen Tool, draw one wing and make it transparent.

Double-Click on the wing, choose Inner Shadow and set: Fusion Mode: Multiply, Color: dark red, 100% Opacity, 0px Distance, 16px Size.

Add a layer behind the wing and paint a nice design.
In another layer below, paint the butterfly body.

Put the wing layers in a group, duplicate it and merge it. Press Command/Ctrl + T, then Right-Click>Distort. Move the wing with the left central node.

Duplicate the Group "Butterfly", press Command/Ctrl + T and move it down and rotate a bit. Using Distort, you can open or close the wings a little bit to make it look different. Put one on a leave and make a little shadow under it.

Step 30

Add a new layer under the butterflies in Screen Mode, 55% Opacity, and with a soft brush without Pen Pressure, paint an halo and some little dots of different sizes.
Double-Click on this layer and choose Outer Glow and set: 72% Opacity, Solid yellow, 29px Size.

Step 31

Finally I have decided to change the dress color, so I have duplicated the dress color layer and I have moved it to the top. With Hue/Saturation (Command/Ctrl + U) change the color to light blue, then add a layer in Multiply mode and paint it with a low opacity soft brush with desaturated blue to strengthen the shadows of the girl.
In a new layer paint some hair strands so it does not look so straight. And now it is done, good job!

Final Image

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